Sports Drinks Adverts are Banned for False Claims

An article by Deborah Cohen for the British Medical Journal:

An advertising campaign claiming that the sports drink Lucozade Sport “hydrates and fuels you” better than water has been banned across the UK.

The Advertising Standards Authority received 63 complaints—including one from the Natural Hydration Council—about the television and poster adverts featuring Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and the captain of Harlequin’s rugby union team, Chris Robshaw, saying they breached the advertising code.

The television advertisement showed two groups of men, one drinking water and the other drinking Lucozade Sport, running on treadmills while being monitored by technicians.

A voiceover then said: “At the limits of your ability you need to replace the electrolytes you lose in sweat, keep your body hydrated, give your body fuel.

“Lucozade Sport gives you the electrolytes and carbohydrates you need, hydrating you, fuelling you better than water.”

The poster featured an image of a professional rugby player and stated: “Hydrates and fuels you better than water.”

The complaint reflects the battle ground over health claims made by the drinks industry.

The Natural Hydration Council—also known as the UK Bottled Water Association—supports the view that most people who exercise don’t need a sports drink and water is enough for hydration.

A 2012 BMJ investigation found that although representatives of both the sports drinks industry and the bottled water industry agree about the need to drink plenty of fluids, they disagree on what that fluid should be.1

Lucozade Sport’s former owner, GlaxoSmithKline, said that the health claims were supported by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and authorised under EU legislation.

GSK said it thought the claim that Lucozade Sport “hydrates you better than water” was fully consistent with the EFSA’s authorised claim that “carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions enhance the absorption of water during physical exercise.”

GSK also said that Lucozade Sport “fuels you better than water” was supported by the second authorised claim from the EFSA that the drink “contributes to the maintenance of endurance performance during prolonged endurance exercise.”

However, the Advertising Standards Authority rejected GSK’s argument that the meaning was the same.

“We told GlaxoSmithKline to ensure that they retained the meaning of any authorised health claims if they reworded them to aid consumer understanding,” the authority ruled. “And to avoid substituting product names for the nutrient, substance, food, or food category, for which a claim had been authorised.”

But even the evidence underpinning the claims approved by the EFSA were called into question by the BMJ investigation, which also cast doubt on the premise that the surrogate physiological endpoint of hydration leads to any meaningful difference in performance.2

Carl Heneghan, director of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, who helped conduct the analysis of the EFSA’s methods for the BMJ, said: “It is hard to understand how exactly EFSA methods of assessment are classified as scientific. They relied on manufacturers to supply the evidence, with no apparent inclusion or exclusion criteria, and no prespecified methods for assessing the evidence. Hardly scientific, and certainly not evidence based.

“Indeed, it gets worse when you realise the submitted evidence EFSA did look at. The trials were small (generally less than 10 people), and certainly not representative of the population at large: the majority of participants were young endurance athletes.”


BMJ 2014;348:g136


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